Riverside shows face of homeless

More than 4,500 people will sleep on the streets of Riverside County, CA, tonight. To fight this disturbing statistic, Riverside County Department of Public and Social Services (DPSS) sought Cook & Schmid to organize a public education effort regarding homelessness and to lead those in need to assistance.

More than 4,500 people will sleep on the streets of Riverside County, CA, tonight.

To fight this disturbing statistic, Riverside County Department of Public and Social Services (DPSS) sought Cook & Schmid to organize a public education effort regarding homelessness and to lead those in need to assistance.

“We felt like we had a really good foundation for what messages would resonate with our audiences,” says Jon Schmid, partner at Cook & Schmid.

Strategy
The team concluded that to gain community support and make a change, it would need to remove the labels often placed on the homeless in Riverside County. “What we're really striving to do is to get people to take action and even change behavior,” Schmid says.

The campaign revolved around the facts: The face of the homeless is changing, and often issues like the economy, home foreclosures, and domestic abuse are leaving people on the streets. The team's goal was to show the reality: Many victims are not substance abusers or panhandlers, but instead the elderly, veterans, and families with children, Schmid says.

Tactics
Cook & Schmid reviewed the most recent Riverside County point-in-time homeless count, statistics from social service providers, and data from other regions in the country.

The team performed focus group research, with participants that included homeless Riverside County residents, Schmid says. They provided suggestions, including creating an 800-number because those most at risk for homelessness often use pre-paid cell phones incapable of dialing 211, the county's health and human services hotline.

The team created the Web site RiverSideHomeless.org, and ads of the homeless and those on the verge on the verge of becoming homeless (pictured). It also distributed a toolkit offering useful statistics, referrals, the county's 10-year plan to end homelessness, and 211 window clings among the county service-providers and news media.

The firm pitched Op-Eds to daily Riverside County publications and conducted editorial board briefings with the region's major media outlets, Schmid adds.

Results
In just eight weeks, the Riverside County DPSS saw a 28% increase in hotline calls related specifically to homelessness, a 53% increase in subsidized rental housing, and a 45% increase in shelter, Schmid says. The effort also saw a 27% increase in emergency food and an almost 13% increase in rent assistance.

Additionally, Cook & Schmid's announcement of the effort was covered by two major publications.

Future
Riverside County DPSS hopes to extend the campaign with the help of Cook & Schmid, but things are currently on hold due to the struggling economy.

Ron Stewart, administrative manager of homeless programs at the Riverside DPSS, says that Cook & Schmid was very creative while also realistic in its approach, and there was an excellent rapport between the companies.

PRWeek View
This campaign is a great example of how research, combined with compelling visuals and messages, can produce significant results.

Through preparation and learning about the key demographic, the PR team was able to create a message that not only resonated with the homeless community, but also the county as a whole. This effort really put the power in the people's hands, and it paid off.

PR team:
Riverside County Department of Public and Social Services (Riverside, CA) and Cook & Schmid (San Diego)

Campaign: The Homeless. They're Not Who You Think.

Duration: March 12-August 4, 2008

Budget: $202,882

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